The Biggest PR Trends from 2013 SXSW

Although SXSW runs through this weekend in Austin, Texas, scores of PR professionals have started to bolt after checking out the latest news and trends in technology, media and music—and, of course, have some fun while doing it—during the SXSW interactive sessions that took place this week.  

In the last few years the festival has helped to put some now-household names on the map. For example, SXSW was the site of Foursquare’s launch in 2009 and it was also where Twitter achieved a tremendous boost of popularity back in 2007.

Melissa Todisco, VP at Hunter PR, provided us with some boots-on-the-ground coverage from this year’s gathering in the Lone Star State:

PR News: What digital communications trends did you spot this year at SXSW?

Melissa Todisco, VP at Hunter Public Relations

Melissa Todisco: One trend I saw this year was around apps that help to synthesize data to provide a benefit to the end-user. For example, Higi calculates a health and wellness score by pulling in data from other social networks as well as user-inputted information. Yappem is another [app] that rewards users for sharing brand experiences to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions, while helping brands better understand their consumers.

Another theme revolved around “smarter” apps, with Desti and Tempo being two most buzzed about. Desti is a smart travel guide helping travelers find the best places to stay and eat based on their preferences. Created by SRI Research (the same company that created Siri), Tempo is a smart calendar that pulls appointment details from your other social media and messaging services. 

PR News: What has generated the biggest buzz at this year's event?

Todisco: The biggest buzz was around 3D printing and 3D motion-controlled sensors from Leap Motion. There has been a shift at SXSW this year away from digital apps to more hardware solutions that use digital technology to foster physical interactions. For example, 3M debuted an interactive virtual presenter in the common areas of the convention center, where SXSW attendees could get panel recommendations by interacting with a digitally projected avatar through a touch screen.

Beam allowed trade show attendees to learn about their product by talking “face-to-face” with a company representative based in California who was being live-streamed onto a monitor on wheels that could wheel right up to anyone walking by.

PR News: Which group seems to be driving the digital evolution among brands at SXSW—PR or marketing pros? 

Todisco: One of the great things about SXSW is that there is a place for both marketing and PR professionals—it just depends on the brand’s objectives. There is a definite marketing opportunity to generate leads, meet new customers and make connections to collaborate on new innovations. However, every year more media come to SXSW to cover the latest in technology. This provides a strong rationale for PR professionals to have a role in developing the strategy for a brand’s presence at SXSW to help a company or brand generate awareness and visibility in addition to sales leads.

Competition for coverage is intense because there are so many facets to cover at SXSW such as work  sessions, startups and parties.  However, PR professionals can break through the clutter by developing attention-grabbing engagement opportunities that can generate buzz and publicity. For example, Mashable received the majority of its buzz for its Mashable SXSWi House, where attendees could take a photo with “Grumpy Cat.” This is a perfect example of how PR can identify a creative way to connect with an audience to generate buzz beyond a hard news product launch. 

PR News: What do you think PR pros on site will go home and tell the rest of their agency/organization about?

Todisco: Personally, I think my biggest lesson learned was that the media don’t necessarily need to be pitched about your news, but rather they prefer to discover it themselves through mentions in sessions and social-media buzz. PR professionals typically goes through the media to reach their target audience, yet at SXSW appealing to conference attendees and influencers helps to reach the media and generate even more buzz.

PR News: Any prediction for  digital communications this year, stemming from SXSW?

Todisco: I think we are going to see the emergence of more start up companies that are using data in interesting ways to generate insights to help both consumers and companies make better-informed decisions. For example, I noticed several data measurement companies—such as Peer Index and Topsy—at SXSW offering tools to help identify influencers and track social media conversation in new ways. These kinds of solutions will be very beneficial to PR professionals looking for new measurement solutions to justify ROI on PR initiatives. 

Melissa Todisco, VP at Hunter Public Relations in New York City, specializes in developing integrated communications programs for companies and brands.